Healthy tamales really are possible. Tamales have traditionally served as a richly caloric comfort food and an annual cultural tradition.

This vegetarian version of the comfort food tamale pie comes together quickly with canned beans and frozen bell peppers, onions and corn. If you don’t have frozen peppers and onions, use the same amount of fresh veggies and sauté them a bit longer until tender.

The recipe is adaptable, you can substitute one can of beans with 8 ounces of cooked and drained ground beef or poultry if you like.

Bonus: Rinsing and draining canned beans before using them can eliminate up to 40% of the sodium they are normally processed with.

Healthy Tamales: Cast-Iron Vegetarian Tamale Pie


Ingredients (serves 6)

• 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
• 1 1/2 cups (170g) frozen peppers and onions
• 2 tablespoons salt-free chili powder
• 1 (14.5 ounces/411g) can low-sodium diced tomatoes with juices
• 1 can (15 ounces/439g) kidney beans, drained and rinsed
• 1 can (15 ounces/439g) pinto beans, drained and rinsed
• 3/4 cup (127g) frozen corn, defrosted
• 1/4 cup (29g) cheddar cheese, grated
• 2/3 cup (105g) fine yellow cornmeal
• 1/2 cup (57g) white whole-wheat flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 cup (237ml) buttermilk (or cow or non-dairy milk plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice)
• 1 large egg, beaten


1. Preheat oven to 425°F (218°C). Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet or oven-safe sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 5 minutes. Add the chili powder and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 30 seconds.

2. Add the tomatoes, beans and corn and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly, 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in half of the cheese.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add the buttermilk, eggs and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and stir until just moistened. Drop dollops of the cornmeal mixture evenly over the filling in pan. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

4. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the topping comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Nutrition (per 1-1/2 cup serving):

Calories: 356;
Total Fat: 10g;
Sodium: 382mg;
Carbohydrate: 51g;
Fiber: 8g;
Sugar: 6g;
Protein: 15g

Click here for full recipe for healthy tamales.